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Our Verdict

If you've been waiting for an Ubuntu Phone, wait a while longer. With its compromises and irritants, the BQ Aquaris E45 Ubuntu Edition feels aimed at developers rather than a mainstream audience.

For

  • Nice design
  • Decent camera
  • Ubuntu Store shows promise

Against

  • Lack of apps
  • Slow performance
  • No 4G

In a world dominated by two mobile operating systems, Google's Android and Apple's iOS, it can be hard to find a phone you like if you're not particularly enamoured with either approach. There are alternatives such as Windows Phone, but they have struggled to gain mindshare, their struggles often blamed on a poor app ecosystem.

Canonical, the company behind the popular Linux distribution Ubuntu, announced its ambitions to bring its operating system to smartphones back in 2011, but it was only in 2015 that the first Ubuntu Phone, the BQ Aquaris E45 Ubuntu Edition was released.

So has the long wait been worth it? At the moment BQ Aquaris E45 Ubuntu Edition doesn't have much direct competition, although the Meizu MX4 Ubuntu Edition is launching soon, offering higher specs and a more attractive design – with a higher price.

At €169.90 (around £127, $194, AU$249), the BQ Aquaris E45 Ubuntu Edition is aimed squarely at the budget market, going toe-to-toe with similarly priced handsets such as the Moto G and the ZTE Kis 3 Max.

Even at this aggressive price point, the BQ Aquaris E45 Ubuntu Edition has an uphill struggle against competitors that run the far more established Android operating system. Even Windows Phones such as the Nokia Lumia 735 will have an important app advantage.

As the first ever Ubuntu phone, the BQ Aquaris E45 Ubuntu Edition has a lot riding on it. Can it succeed as a budget smartphone, and also prove to the world that there's room for another mobile operating system to challenge the iOS/Android duopoly? Or will it just be a well-intentioned but quickly forgotten oddity?

Design

The design of the BQ Aquaris E45 Ubuntu Edition instantly brings to mind that of the iPhone 4, albeit in budget form. This means that a flat, rectangular shape with rounded edges is present and correct, though it lacks the premium glass panel back of Apple's older handset.

Instead the body of the BQ Aquaris E45 Ubuntu Edition is made from sturdy feeling plastic that doesn't feel expensive, but also doesn't make you worry about it shattering if it slips through your fingers. The 137 x 67 x 9 mm dimensions and 123g weight makes this a phone that's very comfortable to hold in one hand, and my thumb easily reached each corner of the 4.5-inch screen.

The blank bezel beneath the screen is reasonably thick (around 2cm) and at first seems like wasted space. However this simply hints at the BQ Aquaris E45 Ubuntu Edition's origins as an Android handset (the bog standard BQ Aquaris E45).

BQ Aquaris E45 Ubuntu Edition

The bezel around the screen is quite thick in places

This space would usually be reserved for Android buttons, but here it's just a reminder that the world's first ever Ubuntu Phone hasn't been built from the ground up for Ubuntu. It's feels like a bit of a missed opportunity, as the first phone could have been a real showcase for what Ubuntu has to offer.

By just plopping it on an already released Android handset with minimal tweaks it instead suggests a lack of confidence in Ubuntu Phone. Whether that is accurate or not, it's not a great feeling to have surrounding your new mobile operating system.

Perhaps more cynically, it seems to me that Canonical might have chosen this method to show other phone manufacturers how easy it is to put Ubuntu Phone on their existing Android handsets. Along with certain other aspects of the rough-around-the-edges operating system that I'll get to later, this gives the impression that the BQ Aquaris E45 Ubuntu Edition isn't aimed at the regular consumer.

The power button and volume controls reside on the right-hand side of the body, while on the left two trays – similar to the ones found on iPhones – can be prodded out with a pin to insert two SIM cards.

BQ Aquaris E45 Ubuntu Edition

A side view of the BQ Aquaris E45 Ubuntu Edition

On the top edge of the body a flap can be removed allowing you to insert a microSD card – a blessing indeed considering the handset only comes with 8GB of internal storage, and only 5.5GB is available to be used out of the box.

Overall the BQ Aquaris E45 Ubuntu Edition has a perfunctory design that neither wows nor offends, which is normally all we'd ask for with a handset at this price range. However as a device that's the first of its kind, a bit more pizazz could have been appropriate.

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